NPR Host Asks What Kind of 'Rancor' Will McCain Dump on Obama?

June 4th, 2008 5:57 PM

Now that the general election is apparently on, National Public Radio staffers and listeners are already bracing for the "rancor" that John McCain and the Republicans are going to unleash. On Wednesday’s nationally distributed Diane Rehm show, Rehm asked bluntly: "What kinds of comments, what kinds of rancor are we likely to see coming from John McCain as he goes up against Barack Obama?" Rancor is apparently a Republican product, and something that will never be emitted by the Obama campaign.

Several Obama supporters worried to Rehm that the American voters are dumb enough to be talked out of voting for Obama by right-wing rumor-mongering about Obama’s religion. One caller complained about how voters listen to "silly rumors on the talk shows, they don’t bother to ascertain facts." After another caller told a story of a houseguest who thought Obama was a secret Muslim, NPR political director Ron Elving said the American people are intelligent, but often uninformed. Former Time reporter John Dickerson, now with the liberal Slate website, added that Obama will have to deal with voters who are "willfully stupid" about his life history.

Rehm read a letter from Scott in Dallas, Texas:

We had a couple visit us this weekend. While they were here Obama was on TV giving a speech. Out of nowhere, our guest, a woman said I can’t stand that guy and used a few expletives. I asked her why and she said ‘He’s a Muslim and he goes to a church for 20 years where the preacher hates white people. I asked her how he was a Muslim if he went to a church for 20 years. She says, ‘Because he was a spy.’ What was most unsettling was the degree of venom she expressed. This couple are blue collar, moderate income, strongly religious. I expect the whisper campaign is in full force. Your previous caller was right. They need to act fast to dismiss this kind of rumor.

Is it possible this story could simply be a fable to sell the country on anti-Obama intolerance? Could this letter be about as reliable as an Internet rumor? Are NPR’s talk shows so much more sensitive than political Internet sites in vetting public comments? Rehm clearly selected this letter to sell the idea that there a lot of truly backwards Obama haters out there. The comments after the letter really showed some grave doubts by Rehm and her media guests about the average American’s intelligence and perhaps their Islamophobia:

RON ELVING: The American people are intelligent people but their information is often imperfect. And it is often times easier to believe something you heard around a water cooler or something you saw on the Internet, which is the great water cooler of the universe. Then it is to actually look into a particular question. If your name is Barack Obama and your father was even momentarily a Muslim, you are going to always be suspect among people who have problems with Muslims in the world, and are suspicious of them when they find them in their own lives. So this is what we could call in traditional or customary American politics a big hurdle for him to get over. We were a little bit surprised a few years ago to see him rise so quickly to being elected in the United States Senate with name that rhymed with Osama.

DIANE REHM: You know, it’s fascinating. I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and I spoke at one event, identifying my parental background. My mother from Alexandria, Egypt. My father from Beirut, Lebanon. A young man came to the microphone and said ‘How do you as a Muslim deal with the issues in the Arab world?’ And I said ‘What makes you think I’m a Muslim?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re an Arab.’ And I said. ‘Well, the worst thing that people have ever called me is an Episcopalian, which I have been for forty years!’ So it is fascinating to me that that assumption was there. And what does that mean for Barack Obama?

JOHN DICKERSON: He has to make a calculation, which is how many times and what exactly does he do to change the minds of those people who are exclaiming at the television. There might not be that much he can do. You know, people sometimes just don’t want to learn new facts, or, and it’s extraordinary how persistent and powerful some of these rumors have been, and how willfully stupid some people want to be. And so as a political matter, Obama has only so many hours and so many states and so many arguments he can make. There may not be much he can do about a certain block of people who hold those views and aren’t anxious to try and find out if they’re right or not.

Rehm's third guest was Monica Langley of the Wall Street Journal news staff, so there were no conservatives on the panel. When Rehm asked the McCain-rancor question, Elving rather dispassionately explained that McCain would be selling himself as the voice of experience and national-security gravitas, and selling Obama as the opposite. Apparently, McCain won't be encouraging anti-Obama rumor-mongering, no matter how much liberals wave it like a red flag.